I just want to point something out that is fairly recent. There were some people from news.com who interviewed a whole lot of Schoolies on the Gold Coast, and basically what they were told is that dozens of teens admitted that they were under the influence of MDA or caps.
So, you see, when asked further, they’d gone off alcohol because it’s too expensive. So, what have we done? I’m sure we didn’t mean to do this but this is what they call unintended consequences. And we keep talking about how safe young people are when they go to Schoolies, and look, for many circumstances that’s true but when you’ve got people who say I moved from alcohol to drugs, what do you do?
Well, let’s ask a bloke who’s probably got this head spin from this question. Greg Hunt, federal Health Minister.
Greg, that’s a very disappointing result, isn’t it?
Well, it is if there’s a direct link but what we see is that you have pushers, you have people who are deliberately trying to target young people, and it has to be a two-fronted approach.
One is absolutely ruthless policing and we take a zero tolerant approach; and I would say to the Queensland government that there is absolutely no excuse for what is the most foreseen and forewarned risk in terms of where these pushers and people who will prey on young people will arrive and that’s at Schoolies; and they need to have absolutely rigorous policing.
The second being, of course, is the drug and alcohol treatment, which is what we’re announcing today, which is the $20m for drug and alcohol treatment in South Australia, particularly focusing on rural and regional areas and hotspots or areas of need such as the Fleurieu, Peterborough in the Mid North, Port Augusta, Ceduna, Murray Bridge, Playford, Port Adelaide.
How are we going to spend that money? What are we actually going to do with it?
And how will it work on the ground? Are we- see, we’ve got a facility in Norwood that used to be called Warinilla, where it was a rehabilitation clinic – that shut.
And often, Minister, the kind of feedback I get is – from parents and others and loved ones and siblings of those on drugs – who say to me: look, he or she is very keen to have something happen, they want to get off this stuff but there’s either, one a waiting list or two, they don’t have the money to go to private clinics. Some people have but they have not. So, how is this going to impact on that?
So, this funding is aimed directly at exactly that type of problem. It’s been raised with me by people such as Nicolle Flint and Tony Pasin, Georgina Downer, but also I acknowledge Centre Alliance as well, they have raised it and worked with us on it.
So all of those people agree that need for treatment centres, for medical clinics, so patients that aren’t in the treatment centre or sometimes those outpatients; and then education and diversion programs in schools and in sports clubs.
But the treatment centres have primarily, historically been the responsibility of state. We’re stepping up into that space, and I know the South Australian Government - the new South Australian Government - has been very focused on this in my discussions with Stephen Wade and Steven Marshall.
So, we will work with them. There will be grants of up to $2.5 million with a particular focus on treatment centres, on rehab outside of residential treatment centres, and then the diversional prevention through the schools and sports clubs and community groups. And we know ice; we know that opioid; and we know alcohol addiction are all real and significant problems.
Minister, in South Australia we have a significant number of people who have gone to the clinics here – often run by SA Health – and they’ll be put on methadone and some of them have used methadone for years and there is very little checking that having been supplied methadone, it cost – to the those listening –the taxpayer that they’re not using other stuff as well.
Now, I don’t know about you but I reckon most people would regard that as highly unsatisfactory. Have you had any feedback on this?
Look, I am aware and I know, again, from working with Stephen Wade, the SA Health Minister, that his view was that there has previously been a gap on his watch and on our watch, we’re intending to try to close that as it exists under the previous government and so, we want to work with them and we’ve had a very positive response.
The way I view this current South Australian government is they’re very fearless on the crime side of actually cracking down on those elements and they want to be working very practically with us on the compassionate side. So, the program’s been designed with them – this $20 million – and they will focus very much on the policing side but in a much more sort of direct way than was previously the case.
I’m sorry to say that previously there was a bit of a hands-off approach as we saw with the tragedies around aged care as well. And so, this is ultimately about giving people a chance to have their lives recovered, to save lives and to keep lives.
It’s very significant funding - $20 million will go a long, long way towards helping people recover, have rehabilitation and treatment and above all else to prevent people getting on to opioids and to ice.
Look, unfortunately this policy area is a little bit political.
And on one hand you’ve got people who believe that addiction is okay, you just manage it because the inevitable excrement happens or there are those who want total abstinence.
And I note that when there is an alcohol issue, you don’t go and put people on a light beer. But that’s ostensibly what we do with drug treatment. There needs to be some reform in this space, would you not agree?
Well, the thing that absolutely has to happen is zero tolerance to illicit drugs - that is the approach.
Now, on the medical side, I’ll leave that to the medical experts, the addiction specialists in terms of how we bring people down from agonising and (inaudible) drugs. But the zero tolerance approach is the Morrison government, it’s my deep personal belief, it’s the advice of others that - and I know from meeting with the AFP and as well as the chief medical officer, there are no safe levels of these illicit drugs – and that’s the starting point – there are no safe levels of those illicit drugs.
And we’ve increasingly seen evidence that marijuana is not a benign drug, that it has psychotic impacts, that it has mental health impacts.
Now, you can have medicinal cannabis where some of the dangerous properties have been removed and we’ve made that available for the medical practitioners but my view and our approach - as a government – is zero tolerance of illicit drugs and there’s medical support to help people avoid, treat and recover.
Alright, anyone listening today who hears you and I talking – I’m talking with Health Minister Greg Hunt – who is aware that there’s now $20 million, particularly for regional SA but not excluding the city, who’ve got an addiction problem, are you saying to them now there’s a much better chance as a result of this that you can get help immediately?
Well, these grants will take a little bit of time to come into being but we want them in place early in the New Year. So, what happens is it’s open as of today under grants.gov.au – grants.gov.au – and that will be open until 20 December. Then there’s a – as you would want from a government – a careful evaluation process but I want them up and running within the first quarter of 2019.
Greg Hunt, thanks for joining us today. That’s the federal Health Minister.